Coworker rage: Advice for manager worried about delivering negative performance review

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clarity art

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Dear Dr. Brady,

I am a woman in a business unit with only a few other women in senior positions. I was promoted into a management position late last year and I really love my new role. Now that first quarter is closed, I have some performance reviews I need to deliver, and I am wary of confronting one report with more seniority . He has significantly decreased performance. I hate negative confrontation and this employee is known to blow up whenever he feels criticized.  I’m good at my new position and most of the team seems to appreciate what I have started with them. I know I have my supervisor’s support but I don’t want to mess up. So far I have been saving his review for last! Any advice on how I might deal with this?

Dear Reticent Reviewer,

Congratulations on your promotion! It sounds like you have really embraced your new role and that you are enjoying a new way of working with your team. If only there was a way to make your role more about supporting the team and less about reviewing them. It sounds like you have some fear about the review process, and your strategy to leave the one you are most worried about for last isn’t a bad one. This may seem like avoidance but in reality you are getting yourself use to the typical rhythm of the review process, which will make it easier to pattern your review with Mr. Difficult, and make you better able to feel in control of how the conversation progresses.

Screenshot 2015-04-18 at 5.18.38 PMYou mention being a woman, and that the one review you are most anxious about is with a man known to “blow up” when challenged. I am going to assume that his “blow up” is never physically threatening or aggressive, because if it is I would question how he has been able to maintain his employment. You shouldn’t be asked to manage an employee with any violent office outbursts. Workplace safety is a big issue, and homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the workplace. If you are concerned in any way that your report could be violent of abusive in response to feedback it is essential you work with your HR department to establish a plan to manage any threats. I would recommend engaging his review process in as safe a way as possible, with supervisor support and access to mental health referral.

I share that information with you not to scare you but just to make sure you know what you have a right to access.  I don’t think this is what you mean by “blow up.” I think what you mean is that he gets verbally defensive and doesn’t state his discontent in the most polite tones.  Sound about right? Add to this that you personally dislike confrontation and it is understandable that you would feel reluctant to review his performance knowing it is down.

The best way to engage a conversation with him is to do it simply and clearly.

Screenshot 2015-04-18 at 5.20.27 PMBegin with what he hopes to focus on in the next review cycle. What is important to him about his work and how can you incorporate this into his next review area? Next, present whatever specific data you have for him. Be sure you both have the same information in front of you and allow him to silently read through the material. Ask him what stands out for him, and when he notes the dip in performance, ask him what he thinks explains this change. The more you are able to get him to state and acknowledge first, the less defensive he is likely to be in your discussion. Sitting beside, rather than directly across from him, is another strategy to consider. Facing someone head on triggers a defensive posture, while sitting at a right angle or on the same side of the table can signal a shared objective.

As these more gentle approaches to your discussion play out, you will likely still arrive at a point in the conversation that focuses on what will happen if these numbers don’t improve. First and foremost, be sure you know what the policies and improvement plans are that you have the authority to make available. Identify the resources and timeline that you have to work with. It would be very helpful if you could offer him a set of options to chose from in order to assist him in improving. The more choice he has over the tools he can use to improve, the less threatening the improvement plan will feel.

As nervous as you are for this review, keep in mind that his history of outbursts reveals how anxious he is feeling.clarity People “blow up” when they feel threatened or scared, and it sounds like he feels this way often. Insecurity can be difficult to manage, but it’s even harder to live with for oneself. Bringing that awareness and empathy for his perspective can help you feel less under attack if he responds negatively.  And setting the parameters, especially if there is shared history of conversations going badly, is always a good idea. Try having a phrase like “We can talk about these things but if the conversation goes into this other area we will need to take a break and regroup.” or “It’s okay for us to disagree, but we need to do so with a calmer tone.”

clarityAlright, it’s your turn. I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.

Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here.

Loretta L.C. Brady
Loretta L.C. Brady


Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.




The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.



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